Category: Teen

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander (9780310761839, Amazon)

Blade has grown up with all sorts of privileges as the son of a rock star, but the big house and huge parties come at a cost. His father is always humiliating him, like when he crashes (literally) Blade’s graduation ceremony where Blade is meant to give a speech. His father tries to clean up his act regularly, but it never seems to stick and he returns to drugs and alcohol. Blade also misses his mother terribly after her death. When Blade finally confronts his father about his behavior, a family secret is revealed that changes Blade’s perspective permanently. He sets off to discover his own history, a journey that takes him to Ghana, a place entirely different than the one he has been living in.

Newbery-Medal winner Alexander has crafted another amazing verse novel here. He moves firmly into teen territory here, with a 17-year-old protagonist who is truly on a journey to discover himself. Alexander starts the novel with the excess of a rock legend’s life and then beautifully changes the novel mid-course to Ghana and people who live as a strong community with few luxuries. The two settings could not be more different nor could what Blade feels while he is in each. Ghana is vividly depicted as is Blade’s reaction to it, rich with people and place.

Alexander’s poetry writing is superb in both settings. Yet it truly comes alive in Ghana, particularly with Joy, Blade’s guide and inspiration while there. Just as Blade cannot look away from Joy, neither can the novel nor the reader since she is so captivating. Throughout the book, there are questions asked that are deep, about wealth and poverty, about privilege and race, about addiction and recovery, about parenting and failure. This is a rich book filled with lots to discover and discuss.

A great read that will be enjoyed by even those teens who may not think they’d like a verse novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)

No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.

Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.

Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Saints and Misfits by SK Ali

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (9781481499248, Amazon)

At 15, Janna is a Muslim teen who is still trying to figure out who she is and how to deal with things happening in her life. She wears a hijab, like her mother, though her father doesn’t approve. Her brother has moved back in with Janna and her mother since his father pulled his funding for her brother’s college education when he switched majors. Janna is attracted to a white boy at her school and finds herself being cyber-bullied by some of his friends. Worst of all though is that another boy who is considered to be an upstanding young man tried to rape Janna. She can’t find a way to tell people about what happened to her and the boy continues to stalk her. This modern look at the life of a teen Muslim girl is an important read that shows the strength of young women as they grapple with today’s issues.

Ali’s writing is fresh and fabulous. She invites readers into the day-to-day life of a Muslim family. The question of hijabs and niqabs are discussed and in many ways demystified for the non-Muslim reader. While the sexual assault is central to the book and vital to the story, there are also other moments that are critical in Janna’s growth. Some of these are small details of caring for an elderly neighbor or figuring out that saint-like girls may have other aspects to them as well. All of these smaller details add up to the strength that Janna needs to face her larger monster.

Janna is a great heroine. She is clearly written as a younger teen, something that we often don’t see in teen novels. Since she is younger, her growth is dynamic and entirely believable. Her relationship with her mother and brother are complicated and filled with teen reality. The same is true of her tumultuous relationship with the boy she likes and her friends. Just having friends who are non-Muslim is complicated, particularly when it exposes Janna far more than she is comfortable with.

A vitally important book that serves as a window and a mirror for people in every community, this book belongs in every public and high school library. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Salaam Reads.

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (9780062382801, Amazon)

Excuse me as I completely gush about this book and insist that if you haven’t read it, you rush out and get a copy. Monty, his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity are sent to Europe on a Grand Tour. The Tour is part of Monty’s repairing of his reputation after a series of naughty escapades that got him expelled from school. His father completely disapproves of Monty’s lifestyle, particularly his love of other men. But the Tour doesn’t go as planned. Monty finds himself caught in a woman’s rooms wearing very little and is forced to dash from the palace nearly naked. And that’s just the first escapade. Soon Monty, Percy and Felicity are being chased across Europe with no money and no one to save them. It’s up to Monty, the sister he has despised for years and the boy he loves to figure out how to save themselves as the danger gets deadly.

I enjoyed this book at first but did not fall head over heels for it until the party was traveling with no money. The gilded beauty of the official Tour was fine but it was the real trouble that brought the book fully alive. Happily, that takes place early in the novel and then I could not stop reading. Lee takes on so many societal ills in this book that it is dizzying. While the book is set in the past, those ills are still at play today. Subjects like racism, sexism and LGBT rights are still key. This could have just been a lighthearted romp across Europe, but those themes anchor the book, give it weight and real meaning.

The characters are exceptionally drawn. Readers get to know them steadily through the book and they grow and change, revealing themselves to be multilayered and complex. The three main characters in particular are exceptionally drawn. Monty is a glorious rake, dashing and dimpled and yet far deeper than he gives himself credit for. Percy is the perfect foil for Monty, steady and full of grace. Felicity is feminism personified, calm under pressure but not too calm when kissed.

This is an exceptional teen novel and definitely one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (9780373212316, Amazon)

Elloren has led a sheltered life with her uncle, making violins and creating cures out of herbs. Now she is being sent to university, something her powerful aunt doesn’t agree with. Her aunt attempts to have her paired with a seductive young man who seems eager as well, but Elloren has promised her uncle not to wandfast until after she graduates. At university, Elloren is exposed to more other races than ever before, including lupines, elves, and some hidden Fae. In an attempt to force Elloren to marry, her aunt has set up the worst possible quarters for her, sharing a room in a drafty cold tower with two Icarals, born with wings and considered to be cursed. Elloren slowly learns of her own biases and racism as the book continues, figuring out that her upbringing has been slanted and that her own history may be questionable.

I must address that this book was the subject of a huge situation at GoodReads where its star score is still low because people saw the book as racist. While colors of skin do play a role in the book, this book is all about a sheltered girl with a heritage that is filled with glory and blood figuring out that she is entirely and unquestionably wrong. The book made sure not to leave statements of Elloren’s bias on the page without a counterpart and does exceptionally well at having other perspectives always presented. There are no simple answers here, since Forest has created a complicated and intricate world that bears little resemblance to our own.

Forest’s characters are entirely flawed and that makes the book so much better. Elloren may or may not be the next Black Witch. Readers will know there is a well of untapped power within her and see clues about it. They will also be infuriated by Elloren at times, as she flirts with a man who is clearly dangerous and using her. Elloren grows at a natural pace, her perspectives shifting with research, lectures, and personal experience. There is a lot magical about this fantasy novel, but her growth remains steady and understandably human-like.

A strong book in a new series of magic, dragons and legendary creatures, this book is unafraid to ask deep questions about morals, ethics and bias. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (9780425288504, Amazon)

Felix’s life changed when he was caught in an accident in his father’s lab at three years old. A fourth dimensional being named Zyx was fused inside him. Now the time is coming when Felix and Zyx have to be separated or they will both die. Felix begins a secret blog where he shares his experiences of being fused with Zyx and the days leading up to the Procedure. There are details about normal things like his family, bullies at school, and his crush on a cute boy at school. Then there are the Zyx related aspects that draw Felix to the beauty of jazz music and immensely gifted chess playing. Even as Felix hopes to be able to fix the physical manifestations and pain brought by being with Zyx, he wonders about what his life will be like without him and if they will both potentially die as they are separated.

Bunker has created an exceptional book for middle grade readers. She has seeped it full of diversity of the LGBT community. Felix himself is gay, his mother is bisexual and his grandparent is gender queer. The beauty is that this is not the focus of the novel, just background information, a matter-of-fact look at what openly queer families can be.

The real focus of the book is Felix himself, caught in a unique situation that makes him the target of bullies. He still connects with others, his crush on a boy growing with natural pacing. He speaks in a voice that is witty and rich, his writing filled with small details of his life but also with humor. There is a sense of an impending ending but also the slim possibility of a future as well that keeps this book steeped in the small wonders of life but also immensely hopeful.

A dynamic mix of LGBT, science fiction and growing up, this novel is entirely unique just like its main character. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

 

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (9780062393548, Amazon)

Released June 13, 2017.

This is a novel told in three different time periods, each featuring a woman finding love and yearning for change. There is Adri from the year 2065, who has been selected to live on Mars. She is aloof and prickly and spends her last weeks on Earth with her sole surviving relative, an older woman she has never met. Adri discovers the letters of the other women and is soon drawn into their lives and the mysteries of what happened to them. Catherine lives in 1934 in the midst of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the midst of dust storms, she manages to fall in love and then has to decide whether to stay with her mother on their deteriorating farm or leave and take chances in a large city. Lenore lives in England in 1919, recovering from the loss of her brother in World War I. She meets a scarred young man who is living in an abandoned house on her family’s estate and isn’t sure what parts of his story are true.

The stories of these three characters are vivid and remarkable. Adri’s story is told in prose while the others are done in letters. The book folds out into a series of letters, origami-like and wondrous. Anderson cleverly creates a point in the book where one isn’t sure if the ending of the women’s stories will be fully revealed or not. It creates a breathtaking moment of mystery and inconclusiveness that adds to the already appealing story. Throughout, Anderson demonstrates her skilled writing and gorgeous prose that is full of emotion and possibilities.

The three female characters whose stories are told in the novel are vastly different from one another and yet the stories nest together into one complete whole. While they are distinct and unique women, the stories all speak to their tenacity, deep caring and independence. Even as they make critical decisions in the midst of impossible situations, there is a sense of community and connection that weaves throughout the novel, showing that we are all stronger together.

Engrossing, intelligent and incredibly rich, this novel for teens is truly exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.